I've been mulling this post over for a long time. Some might say I've been mulling it over since long before I had a blog, since the issue of strong heroines has always been very important to me. For years, I was always drawn more strongly to the female characters in the story, even if they were only on the periphery. I haven't ever written anything more than a short story from a male pov (and that will probably stay that way for the foreseeable future: I'm dreadful at male pov). Part of the reason I started to write was because I read Tamora Pierce's books and said "yeah! Girls can run around with swords too! I want to write stuff like that!"
So I love a good strong heroine. I can't stand wimpy female characters - that was the reason that both Mansfield Park and The Forest of Hands and Teeth got tossed aside about fifty pages in.
But there seem to be two "easy routes" to strong characters that a lot of people take, and neither of them work. See this Let the Words Flow post on how Sassy Does Not Equal Strong, and my friend Vee's post on What Makes a Strong Heroine.
Strength means more than having a witty comeback for everything tossed the character's way. Strength means more than being able to beat the boys at swordplay. In fact, I would argue that a lot of the time, both those things are only cover ups for characters who are really quite insecure.
And now it's unpopular opinion time! Case in point: Katniss Everdeen.
Katniss is always the one whose name gets tossed out first in the strong heroine category nowadays. And in The Hunger Games, that is certainly true. She goes through some rough stuff and comes out on top, and not just because of her butt-kicking abilities. But in Catching Fire and Mockingjay, that strength goes away. She lets other people make the decisions for her. She becomes a figurehead, a symbol of strength, rather than an actually strong person. I can't say I blame her; she's in way over her head, for sure. But she wouldn't get my vote in the strongest heroine contest.
Another thing that I hate is when people try and make their female characters strong way out of context. (Unless of course that's the whole point, like, say, Pierce's Alanna books.) Like a Victorian "lady" who talks back to everyone and can hold her own at whatever she's set to. Strength can be a quiet thing too. You don't have to be loud to stand up to adversity. You don't have to completely dismantle the rules put in place by the time period or setting. Because then it just seems a little bit ridiculous, not an earnest portrayal of girl power at all.
My idea of a strong character is one who makes her own choices, makes her own mistakes, owns up to her own failings. She might fall, but she'll pick herself back up. She might have help, but she doesn't rely completely on that help.
And yes. She might beat a few of the boys at fencing along the way.